Railroads Expanding Access to AskRail

Written by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor
Sumner County Tennessee Emergency Communications Training Officer Brooke Elkins learns about AskRail. (Caption and Photograph Courtesy of AAR)

Sumner County Tennessee Emergency Communications Training Officer Brooke Elkins learns about AskRail. (Caption and Photograph Courtesy of AAR)

The Association of American Railroads (AAR) has teamed with the Sumner County, Tenn., emergency management agencies on a pilot project that adds AskRail data to their dispatching system. AskRail’s railcar contents information and emergency response guides will help to “ensure all first responders have accurate, timely information in the event of a rail emergency,” AAR reported March 20.

Launched in 2014, the AskRail app is a collaborative effort among the emergency response community and all seven Class I railroads (BNSF, Canadian Pacific, CN, CSX, Kansas City Southern, Norfolk Southern, and Union Pacific). Currently, it provides more than 35,000 first responders—from all 50 states and eight Canadian provinces—“with immediate access to accurate, timely data about what type of hazardous materials a railcar is carrying so they can make informed decisions on how to best respond to a rail incident,” according to Railinc, the app developer and a wholly owned AAR subsidiary.

The Sumner County test pilot is the first step the freight rail industry is taking to expand access to AskRail. Railroads are working to run a similar pilot in Canada before the program is rolled out to Emergency Communications Centers (ECC) across North America, AAR reported.

AAR’s Hazmat Committee and AskRail Task Force—comprising representatives from railroads, emergency management agencies and first responders—developed a new training module specifically for ECCs on how to effectively use the AskRail app to support first responders and emergency planners, according to the association.

“The industry has long collaborated with the first responder community to ensure the right tools and training are in place should a rail emergency occur,” AAR President and CEO Ian Jefferies said. “After [the Feb. 3 Norfolk Southern derailment in] East Palestine, we heard that challenges such as lack of cell phone service made using AskRail difficult in the early hours of the response. By extending access and training to dispatch centers, we’re adding another layer of coverage to communities that will keep the information flowing to those on the front lines of a rail emergency.”

“Every second counts when we arrive at the scene of an emergency,” said Christie Davis, ECC Director of the Sumner County Emergency Communication Center. “Equipping our communications centers with AskRail provides all our first responders with the information they need to make faster, safer decisions that will protect our communities and save lives in the unlikely case of a rail emergency.”

The AskRail app continues to be a part of the standard training emergency responders receive from the freight railroads and at the Security and Emergency Response Training Center, and to be available for download through the Apple App Store and Google Play to qualified first responders, according to AAR.

Through these efforts and the expansion to ECCs, the association said it plans to double the number of first responders who have access to the tool by the end of 2023.

Expanding AskRail access is part of the seven initial steps the Class I railroads are taking “to drive toward a future with zero incidents and zero injuries—one where what happened in East Palestine never happens again,” AAR reported March 8.

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